DUSK is the time to see friends. The day’s heat is skeined across the corn, and the evening is still no more than a wisp of dullness against the blue. But it is at this moment that the muntjac appears in silhouette on the track, alert yet nonchalant, giving me his best side.
How different the following morning! He crashes out of the ditch, nearly knocking me over, and barking like all get out. “It is I, your nocturnal friend, your admirer. Calm down!” No use. The barking muntjac rises high in the air before disappearing, then reappearing in Duncan’s corn all the way out of sight.
He — the muntjac — is a beautiful little Asian deer with maybe a Javanese name. Now and then I listen to him barking at the summer moon, and frightening the trees.
I meet Duncan and, after we talk acreages, he asks me to say “an agricultural grace” at his 80th-birthday lunch. I tell him that I intend to put a sign out, “Graces, Eulogies, Blessings to order”. Back home I tell the white cat how good they all are to me, these farming neighbours who carry the collection to the altar, singing without the book, and who return my bow with due solemnity.
I dig up three rows of potatoes. How plenteous they look on the larder-bricks with their crumbs of earth scenting the cold room. Then St James, Son of Thunder, leaps from the calendar, as does his ambitious-for-him mother. I happen to be reading Alice Through the Looking-Glass when this lady requests the best seats in heaven for her boys; so I know all about the upside-down nature of things, the first being last, the master waiting on the servant, etc. Jesus is so perfect with her. The seating arrangements are not in his hands.
Then along comes a little king, Herod Agrippa, to kill poor young James. Small men in power do not put up with Sons of Thunder. And that should have been that. But, centuries later, James takes a lesson from the far-travelling fishes that often escaped his nets, and makes a silvery bid for Compostela, where, they say, you will find him to this very day.
Even if you cannot quite believe this, the long walk to him will do you good. I see him at high table in heaven, young and boisterous, and making up for an early death, and wearing a cockleshell.
The church doors are wide to the weekend walkers. They frame the heat. The cars in the lane will soon be ready to cook in. The ringers in the back row voice their favourite hymn, “To those who fall, how kind thou art! How good to those who seek!”
An odd thing occurred. Returning to the house and pouring some Islay whisky that a rich Cambridge professor brought me, and picking up Alice, I came to: “So they walked on together through the wood, Alice with her arm clasped lovingly round the soft neck of the Fawn, till they came out into another field, and there the Fawn gave a sudden bound into the air, and shook itself from Alice’s arm.
“‘I’m a Fawn!’ it cried out in a voice of delight. ‘And, dear me! You’re a human child!’ A sudden look of alarm came into its beautiful brown eyes, and in another moment it had darted away at full speed.”
But no barking. Muntjacs were still in Java. Mine is full of airs and graces, having escaped from Woburn Park, and was on its way to the College of Heralds when it leaped into my vision.